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Big Quarter Expected for Apple, iPhone 5

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The iPhone 5 is likely to enjoy a blockbuster winter.

That's the word this week from Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu, who believes that an improved production schedule and a widening market will help Apple sell 45 to 46 million iPhone 5 handsets in the current fiscal quarter. Big numbers, obviously. But as Apple Insider notes, there's reason to believe the hype: consumer interest in the iPhone 5 has remained persistently high, and Apple will soon launch the device in 50 additional countries, including Brazil and Taiwan.

"From our understanding, this is despite still robust demand due to improving yields and thus better availability and profitability," Wu wrote in a note to investors, according to Barron's.

Some perspective: Although it's December in the real world, Apple is actually in fiscal Q1 of 2013. In fiscal Q1 of 2012 – a year ago, basically – Apple sold 37.04 million iPhone handsets.

Obviously, if Apple does sell 46 million iPhone 5 handsets this time around, it will be a big leap forward. But then again, last year, Apple was selling the only modestly-improved iPhone 4S, and not the shiny and sleek new iPhone 5.

In related news, Apple recently began selling an unlocked version of the iPhone 5.

The device ain't cheap – $649 gets you a 16GB version, $749 gets you a 32GB version, and $849 buys you the 64GB edition. But you won't be locked in to a data contract of any kind, and for some consumers, the freedom is worth the price. Unfortunately, while the unlocked iPhone 5 works on on GSM networks such as the ones operated by AT&T and T-Mobile, it does not work on CDMA networks, so Verizon and Sprint fans are out of luck.

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